Map of Mesa Verde National Park
Chapin Mesa is the best known portion of the park and contains the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum—which contains life-like dioramas, artifacts, and other exhibits that focus on the culture and daily life of the Anasazi. Visitors can see numerous archaeological sites, including Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and Balcony House. The park roadways are well designed and allow people, even those who choose not to walk into the canyons, the opportunity to see the ruins from canyon rim overlooks. Allow a full day to drive and walk to all the sites on Chapin Mesa.
Park Headquarters and Chapin Museum: Precise dioramas (scale-size models) demonstrate the lifestyle of the Anasazi and their ancestors. Interpretive exhibits explain archaeological techniques and categorize plants and animals in the region. Indian artifacts from Ute, Pueblo, and Navajo tribes are also displayed. At the museum bookstore, you'll find books on the Southwest, postcards, pottery, and trail guides. Trail guides are also available at the individual ruins. Across the parking lot is Spruce Tree terrace cafeteria. Gift shops sell souvenirs and arts and crafts.
Spruce Tree House: Descending a steep 100 feet, this walk begins next to the Chapin Museum. Spruce Tree House, the third largest dwelling among the several hundred within park boundaries, was built around 1200 A.D. by the Anasazi. The dwelling contains about 114 rooms and 8 kivas, or ceremonial chambers, built into a natural cave measuring 216 feet by 89 feet. It's thought to have been home for about 100 people. Take a moment to climb down a ladder into the cool darkness of a restored kiva.
Square Tower House View: Square Tower House is a large, multi-storied dwelling, built around 1200 A.D. This 80-room complex was only accessible from above and below by way of hand and toe holds hammered into the cliff face.
Cedar Tree Tower and Kiva: A ten-foot-high rounded wall is the remainder of a late Anasazi tower that may have been used as a lookout.
Cliff Palace: With 217 rooms and walls up to four stories tall, Cliff Palace is the largest and most spectacular cliff dwelling in the park. It is estimated that the village, which is set on a ledge of Cliff House sandstone, housed as many as 250 inhabitants at one time. The dwellings represent a massive constructon project for the Anasazi, yet they lived in them for only about 75 to 100 years. Why these people went to all the trouble to build these magnificent homes in such a precarious location is a question that still eludes historians. The hike to the site descends a steep trail and requires ascending stairs, ladders, and rock outcroppings. There is also a stunning view of the ruin and Cliff Canyon about 200 feet from the parking lot.
Balcony House: This ruin can be the most difficult and rewarding site to visit in the park. The strenuous one-hour guided tour requires climbing up a 32-foot ladder, crawling through a tunnel in rock, and ascending steps carved into the cliff face. Tucked under a sandstone overhang 600 feet above Soda Canyon, Balcony House faces east. A medium-sized dwelling containing between 35 and 40 rooms, it housed about 50 people.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication